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HOBART, TASMANIA


 HOBART


Often forgotten by the rest of the world, Tasmania is the small island state which sits at the bottom of Australia. Far richer than any of the other Australian States in terms of natural beauty, Tasmania offers travellers and tourists that crazy thing called “fresh air”, and we noticed it as soon as we stepped off the plane.

With many national parks, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and beaches, Tasmania attracts hikers and bush-walkers from all around the world who are drawn to locations such as Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Wineglass Bay, and Maria Island. However Tasmania also offers an insight into its sandstone heritage – five World Heritage Convict Sites such as Port Arthur, The Isle of the dead, and Sarah Island are only a short trip from the historic capital of Hobart.

We spent 6 days in Hobart, Australia’s second oldest city, and loved our time there. It’s not the biggest of cities by Australian standards, but certainly offers enough to warrant several days. Our favorite area was definitely Salamanca with the historic sandstone buildings converted into restaurants, cafes, bars and specialty shops and opposite the tree lined park offering shade for the infamous Saturday Salamanca Markets.


In the early morning we headed out to explore the city, we walked past the waterfront, visited a museum and saw Salamanca Place. The Hobart waterfront is a peaceful area where piers extend into the ocean, fishing boats bop quietly on the water’s surface, sea gulls scream in the skies and seafood restaurants are filled with hungry tourists. It was one of our favorite areas of the city and even on a cloudy and rainy day we enjoyed strolling around.

We spent a bit of time at the Taste of Tasmania Festival. It was packed as you’d expect a free food festival to be, but well laid out and extremely well organised. There was plenty of seating, under cover and out in the sunshine, at tables or on the lawn. With over 70 food and drink stalls, part of the pleasure was in the looking and choosing. Kim found her place at the Clover Hill Wines sparkling wine, seafood and oyster bar, where she discovered the 1996 Clover Hill Blanc de Blancs and loved it so much she ordered a case for delivery to home, and happily slurped down oysters dressed with Pernod, tarragon and olive oil. We shared crispy scallops with mayonnaise and split a woodfire pizza.

The Taste of Tasmania was an unexpected highlight of our holiday and we won’t hesitate to go again if we’re ever back in Hobart at the right time of year. The festive season’s a busy but brilliant time to be in Hobart. The Taste of Tasmania festival coincides with the finish of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which we were lucky to watch Wild Oats finish first. After a long day we headed back to a well deserved sleep.

Next day we woke bright and early for a backed day of adventures. First on the list was a trip up Mount Wellington. It is said that 300,000 people visit Mount Wellington each year. This is no doubt due to its unique situation – an alpine mountain located next to a temperate Australian capital city. You really can go from the surf to the snow in 20 minutes. What’s more you can see the surf from the snow and vice versa. The views are awesome, the surroundings spectacular and the whole place is just made to be enjoyed. You could easily spend several days on the mountain, as long as you were happy to walk a lot. Anyone can find enough to enjoy a few hours in this magnificent natural environment, unrivalled in proximity to any other Australian city. Once on top we headed to the Pinnacle itself. You should climb up here if you can, especially if you have walked to the top, not us. On top is a “trig” point. The “point” is actually the metal point in the ground, and the pyramid structure above it enables people at distant locations to see it (with good optics). They were used for trigonometric surveying, and are largely useless in the GPS age. This one is most useful for holding onto as you climb to the top. We then headed to visitor shelter, which overlooks Hobart east of the carpark, and has interpretive panels inside along with a panoramic guide to what you can see. Lastly before heading back down we walked the summit boardwalk. This runs down beside the visitor shelter. Great views can be had from here on clear days, and it is worth a walk as we got spectacular photos.



Back on the bus and next on the agenda was a trip to Richmond. Richmond was about a 30-minute drive north of Hobart, and is Australia's best-preserved Georgian village and home to more than 50 historic buildings, most dating from the 1820s. It's also in the center of one of Australia's fastest-growing wine regions, the Coal River Valley. Its most famous landmark is the oldest bridge still in use. Built of sandstone hauled to the construction site by convicts, the elegant arched bridge was completed in 1825 when tiny Richmond, now home to about 800 people, was one of the colony's most important convict stations and military posts, and the third-largest town in what was then called Van Diemen's Land. We checked out more than 50 historic buildings throughout the town, although not all are open to the public with many quirky shops and Kim found joy in the boutiques shops. Bit of a touristy town away from Hobart.

Back in the bus for the last stop for the day, a Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory tour to see the making of delicious chocolates, and to enjoy free samples. Wow, for chocoholic Kim, this was pure heaven. Boy did she stock up, after the tour you get to go into the shop on site to buy bags, boxes and truckloads of chocolate at discounted prices. She went nuts, fruit and nuts. She bought something for everyone we knew who liked chocolate, and let’s face it; there aren’t too many people who don’t like chocolate. Who needs lunch when you can stuff yourself stupid on chocolate?

The next day we decided to jump on the Hobart Explorer hop-on hop-off bus tour. First stop was at Battery Point to see an incredible array of historical houses that date as far back as the 1830s and enjoy the area's fine old restaurants, pubs and lovely views of Sandy Bay. An empty rum bottle’s throw from the waterfront, the old maritime village of Battery Point is a tight nest of lanes and 19th-century cottages, packed together like shanghaied landlubbers in a ship’s belly.
We spend the morning exploring, stumbling up Kelly’s Steps from Salamanca Pl and doglegged into South St, where the red lights once burned night and day. Spun around picturesque Arthur Circus, refueled in a cafe on Hampden Rd, then ogled St George’s Anglican Church on Cromwell St.
Next stop off was a stroll around the Botanical Gardens, this popular Hobart attraction is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon, with its Japanese garden, Lily Pond, Herb Garden and much more.

Back on the bus a we visited the Female Factory, a former woman's prison from whence you can set out on the popular Louisa's Walk tour. Louisa's Walk is essentially an immersive piece of outdoor promenade theater where the audience follows actors as they recant the story of Louisa Ragan, an Irish convict who was deported on a seven year sentence in 1841 for stealing a loaf of bread. Two actors take on the roles of Louisa and the men that Louisa encounters on her journey to Van Diemen's Land and in the prison. It is a fascinating story, told with humour and compassion, and is a must if you have an interest in history and/or theatre.  The story is enacted along a route in South Hobart that takes you from Cascade Brewery, to the site of the Women’s Factory and back to the brewery for a complimentary beverage.

The next stop wasn’t too far, Cascade Brewery. Even if you were unaware that Cascade is Australia’s oldest brewery, the castle-like grey building standing tall among the trees provides hints to its history. The brewery was designed by its founder, Peter Degraves while he served time in the Old Hobart Gaol. We had a lesson in the brewing process; a look inside the brewery, tastings, and lots of stories from Cascade’s interesting past, including more about the visionary Peter Degraves. The factory doesn’t operate on weekends although tours still take place, but we had the live spectacle and clatter of workers and moving machinery and watched the noisy, hazardous bottling process in.

When we checked in, we were each given two bottle caps to redeem at the bar at the conclusion of the tour, for Cascade beer or non-alcoholic drinks; this is the ‘tasting’ part of the tour, which we loved.  After the tour, we stayed for lunch in the cafe, ordering meals from the special tour. It’s simple pub-style food, nothing outstanding or particularly memorable, but I was content on the day with my Cascade Stout & beef pie with chips and Kim had a cold bottle of Cascade ginger beer. We thought the tour was a worthwhile activity, giving us an insight into part of Hobart’s rich history.  The souvenir shop sells Cascade merchandise and beer by the carton.


We then took the bus back for a late walk around the Rose Bay area.

Next day was a shopping day for Kim. We headed to Mongrelsocks first. Their variety of merino, possum fur, pure wool, bamboo and cotton blends in various thickness and lengths will keep your toes cosy warm no matter the weather. Onto Sally Cassandra, a Ceramic artisan who creates a range of jewellery, dainty dishes and homewares enriched with beautiful textures and patterns imprinted on porcelain. Sandra utilises vintage fabrics and laces that each have astory to create her special pieces. Next stop was Pili Pala, Helen crafts many of her pieces from Tasmanian blackwood with a mix of vintage patterns and inspiration to create unique necklaces, earrings, vases and wall art. Onto Big JellyMouse, which offers a great collection of quality clothing & accessories that encompass innovative, groovy and fun designs.
Next stop The Maker, which stocks a range of contemporary Tasmanian artists, jewellers, homewares and designers. It showcases distinctive and organic clothing using the finest quality wool, linens and cottons.  From there we walked to the main mall with a row of shops and boutiques.
Late afternoon we headed to Wrest Point Casino, which is set on the Derwent River 2.6 km from Salamanca Market. There are 4 bars and 5 restaurants, including one with a revolving dining room. Kim had a little play, while I chilled in the sports bar. We stayed for dinner at the Point Revolving Restaurant and returned home late.

The last two days we had a day at the races and a full day wine tour. The first winery was Pooley Wines, a rustic, convict built cellar door circa 1830, were guided through an array of highly acclaimed wines. The Pooley team pride themselves on showcasing the Terrior of their Vineyards. Specialising in Riesling and Pinot Noir's, there is so much more to their range that will suit every palate.
Second winery was Clemens Hill Cellar Door and Kitchen, which range of wines is renowned for their complexity, texture, flavour and longevity. Drawing from two premium sites their range epitomises Tasmanian wine, embracing old and new world techniques. Onto the third winery we hit Richmond Tasting House, which is centre stage at the moment in the Whisky and Spirits world. There are now around 13 different distilleries statewide and they are all kicking goals, winning an array of awards and acclaim. Sullivan's Cove recently was awarded "Best Single Malt in the World" We tried 3 different Spirits / Liqueurs. Onto the forth location we hit Coal Valley Cider, which Julie and Josh have built. A great family owned and friendly business just on the outskirts of Richmond. Situated on a lovely parcel of land lies a hand built, mud brick cottage that the Coal Valley Cider family have established. Made from Real Apples, Pears and local Berries, Coal Valley Cider is extremely tasty, delicious and has minimal preservatives. We experienced the range of Ciders and shuck some Walnuts whilst we enjoyed our ciders to.
Our last stop was Wicked Cheese Factory, which is fast becoming a name synonymous with Tassie Cheese. Ashley has gained a reputation as one of Australia's finest cheese makers, Wicked produce 15 types of cheese and we got to try quite a few of them. You can also purchase a cooler bag and ice pack to take Wicked Cheese home with you (you can take anything out of Tasmania, you just can't bring anything in.

Late back to the BnB we had a small dinner and started packing for in the morning we were heading to Launceston early.


LEVUKA, NORTHEN NSW


LEVUKA 4WD PARK


Camping is one of our second loves when it comes to holidays and being in a couple of 4wd and camping groups we do a number of weekend getaways. Most of the time we have managed to keep my camping trips confined to South East Queensland to Northern New South Wales.

The order for our first camping trip in 2016 was to be with Gold Coast Camping and 4wd Club to Levuka Rainforest Recreation Park - a 4wd-ers paradise located just outside the sleepy town of Urbenville in North West New South Wales.

We must say we were pleasantly surprised at just how well organised Levuka actually is. When you check in Robert (the very friendly property owner) hands you a laminated map of the 600 acre property and is happy to answer any questions you may have.

Levuka is a working cattle property so you also have to be prepared for the odd herd that will wander by your campsite. With cows there of course also comes cow poo - an abundance of it in fact but luckily enough one of our group was a boy scout in a past life and informed us that it goes very well in a campfire. Most sites come equipped with their own pre-prepared fire pit. You can bring your own fire wood if you want but we found it far easier just to buy some on site. Robert has a seemingly endless supply of good quality timber to burn for just $10 per 35kg bag.

We are no great 4wd-ing experts but the group all seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Options range from open farm tracks, to rocky climbs, bog holes and tight rainforest drives. The aptly named playground is apparently a must for those wanting to test their skills. Tracks are graded in difficulty from 1-5 so you always know exactly what you are getting yourself into. For those who prefer their weekends a little slower paced there is also bushwalking available around the property and Lake Levuka for a swim or a kayak. But note Lake Levuka is a small dam, not much for swimming or kayaking.  There is also apparently dams stocked with fish on the property but our resident fisherman said, at the time of our visit, they were less than impressive. We didn’t do any track work, but we took a drive up to the lookout, overlooking the range and looked at the lake for the dog to have a little swim.

The group on Saturday split into 2 groups, one was for and easy scenery drive around some easy tracks and the second group took to the more challenging tracks. That afternoon they all drove some medium tracks. The week before there was some rain, so some of the tracks were more of a challenge.

Night fell we cooked up some tea and the group headed to the main campfire to talk some yarns of their challenging day. The great aspect of the group is that they come together as a group and not unsociable pockets of groups.


Whether you are an experienced 4wder or a new 4wder, Levuka has tracks that will test, challenge and entertain you. If you have a highly modified 4wd or a stock standard 4wd, you can certainly have fun at Levuka. Whether you are looking for a country escape with the family or a weekend of high octane fun we would highly recommend this beautiful piece of New South Wales countryside.



DARWIN TRIP




DARWIN


Darwin. It’s a laid back place, mostly friendly and people seem to have time to relax. We didn't see anyone in a big rush all the time we were there, although the heat may have something to do with that. Seriously warm, of course, mid 30's every day and then down to low 20's overnight.


Our Darwin accommodation was only a short distance to the Darwin CBD and the Casuarina Square Shopping Centre, the biggest mall in the Northern Territory. We enjoyed the tropical landscaped gardens, swimming pool, spa and the Runway Bar where we enjoyed a refreshing drink followed by some gourmet delights at Essence Restaurant at the Darwin Airport Resort.

Darwin itself a small city and is situated on the coast of the Northern Territory. We drove down to the waterfront and saw that it had been recently modernised over the last couple of years. It was open with lots of expensive apartments, restaurants and cafes with a wave pool for the families and open grassed areas for people to relax. We finished walking around several stalls and made our way into the city centre. Going past the governmental buildings there were several tourist signs giving the history of various buildings and it was clear that the early years of the city was hard and tough, especially with the weather as it is the hottest part of Australia.



The city centre comprised of about 5 streets filled with shops. It was modern, clean and full of people for a Sunday and we fell in love with the place. After a look at the various shops, we headed off to the tunnels of Darwin. There is so much military history in the area due to the coast line being so close to Japan and during the early part of the 20th century the city was heavily armoured with weapons and manpower, especially during the Second World War. Tunnels were built for fuel and effectively they were fuel tanks. Now empty of fuel, tourists are allowed to walk through these long underground tunnels and there are various pictures going along the walls with information boards giving all information you could ever ask about the tunnels. The place really wasn’t looked after and there could have been more of an effort to give the place an updated look, however it was interesting and it was something that we hadn’t seen before.


The next day we decided to go on a ‘jumping crocodile’ cruise. This involved a drive south of about an hour and a bit into the semi outback going past smaller towns like Humpty Doo to Adelaide River. The cruise was about 45 minutes long on a boat going along Adelaide River with a Guy leaning over the top of the boat while holding what looked like a broom handle with a hook on the end that had meat hanging off it. It was explained that they had done the journey so often that they knew exactly where the crocs were, and boy did they know where the big ones were. Once the crocodile was located, they would tease it with the meat putting it in front of their nose and then when the croc wanted the food in its mouth then the crew would raise the meat in the air till the crocodile was using their body muscle to lift them out of the water to get the meat, giving the effect of them jumping. From where we were sitting in the boat, you could see at close hand the crocs in their full glory, from their teeth, their bodies, the pure muscle that they packed and how big they were. In the time we were out we saw plenty of crocodiles but only 4 of them jumping.

From here we drove to Litchfield National Park to Wangi Falls and had a salad lunch. A Salty had been spotted in the waterfall pool so swimming had been prohibited but when we got there it had been lifted. Didn’t stop us and we jumped in and played around the falls.  

Second stop Buley Rock Hole. Kim went for a dip but you couldn't really swim as there were too many people.

Third stop Florence Falls Plunge Pool after a descent of 135 steps we had a nice swim. It was lovely and a little crowed, but we still enjoyed it.
Final stop was Termite Mounds. We learnt how Grass Termites build Cathedral Mounds and Tree Termites hollow out trees - this is how didgeridoos are formed.

The next day we took a driving tour on the Bombing of Darwin which was really interesting. A lot of people have no idea the Japanese bombed Darwin during WWII. The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin, on 19 February 1942 was both the first and the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. 242 Japanese aircraft attacked ships in Darwin's Harbour, led by Mitsuo Fuchida who had led the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the town's two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to respond to the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves.



The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties, including the postmaster, his wife. The raids were the first and largest of almost 100 air raids against Australia between 1942-43. We visited the key sites and learnt about some of the people who lost their lives during the raids. It also included a drive to the Military Museum, which is well worth a visit. The Darwin Military Museum (DMM) was founded in the mid 1960s by Lieutenant Colonel Jack Haydon and members of the Northern Territory branch of the Royal Australian Artillery Association. The Association, throughout it's numerous contacts, soon started accumulating war memorabilia from all over the Territory, other parts of Australia and internationally. Since then, several notable local collectors have also contributed greatly to the museum’s exhibits including the newest The Defence of Darwin Experiance (DDE). Set in four acres of tropical gardens by the sea, Darwin Military Museum and the Defence of Darwin Experience are not just for the military enthusiast, but for every member of the family.
Getting on the afternoon we headed to Minidil Beach markets. The markets are an awesome location to browse local handmade craft and to grab Darwin souvenirs.
Mindil Beach are the place in Darwin to watch the sunset, and there is no better way to do it than to relax with a delicious dinner in hand from one of the many food stalls. From Thai to crocodile, there are so many culinary options you’ll be wishing you could visit every week. As the sun dips into the Arafura Sea, food is the main attraction − Thai, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Malaysian to Brazilian, Greek, Portuguese and more. Colourful arts and crafts vendors peddle their wares - handmade jewellery, natural remedies, artistic creations and unique fashion statements.
Shop till you drop, catch a fire show, stop for a massage or be entertained by buskers, bands and talented performers as you wind your way through the palm lined boulevards.


The next day we headed to Crocosaurus Cove. One of the most surprising things about Crocosaurus Cove is its location. You won’t find it out in the bush or hidden in the suburbs, but downtown, in Darwin’s most lively entertainment precinct, Mitchell Street. In among the cool bars and trendy eateries are some of the biggest and most dangerous crocs in captivity. And they’ve been given monikers to suit their traits, like Chopper, named after colourful underworld identity, Chopper Reid. The violent life of this 790 kg beast has left him severely battle scarred and missing both front feet. Or Houdini, who escaped from several croc traps before finally being collared.

The big fellas who call Crocosaurus Cove home are there because they’re injured, like Chopper, or they’ve become a danger to livestock in the wild, or they’re less than sociable among their own kind. Five and a half metre long Wendell ended up on Mitchell Street due to his disagreeable attitude towards the ladies at Darwin Crocodile Farm. We arrived in time for feeding. One way to truly appreciate the size of these monsters is to see them next to a comparatively small human holding a short, meat-tipped fishing pole. This is nerve tingling stuff and anyone contemplating a dip in a Top End estuary should see the show.



In a flurry of splashing water and snapping jaws a croc rushes forward for a quick snack before slowly retreating to lay in wait just beneath the surface. You can also come face to face with these giants on the safe side of their transparent enclosures. This is as close as you can get to a croc without losing body parts. There are activities at Croc Cove throughout the day and we were lucky enough to see a giant barramundi being fed by a scuba diver in the Cove’s enormous freshwater aquarium, which is also home to whiprays and sawfish.

Sawfish are odd creatures and it’s not just the saw-like extension to their heads. Okay it’s mostly that, but they also have peculiar human-like mouths that seemed to be coloured with just a hint of pink lippy. The reptile house is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian reptiles. Most of the animals are from the Top End, and include deadly snakes, tiny lizards, goannas and even an albino python. A handler wriggled a dead rat in front of the python’s nose and in a flash the snake had coiled around its hapless victim. Over the next few minutes we saw a rodent-sized lump slowly make its way towards the snake’s stomach. The enclosures have been carefully designed to resemble each species’ natural environment and it seems that happy reptiles are active reptiles. Nearly everything was on the move.

Crocosaurus Cove is about as hands on as an attraction housing some of the world’s deadliest creatures can be. There are opportunities to hold a baby croc, stick your head in a transparent dome among the hatchlings, and you can even fish for crocs with a hookless line, which Kim did all. But the Cove’s most famous attraction is the Cage of Death. In singles or pairs thrill seekers enter a perspex cage to be lowered into the lair of a big croc. The price was not our cup of tea, so we passed.



A highlight another day was to feed the fish at Aquascene where mullet, catfish, milkfish, bream and barramundi thrash about at high tide eager to be fed handfuls of bread. Nestling in a lushly wooded bay called Doctor’s Gully. Feeling those fish grabbing at the bread is a very strange sensation and the shrieks of laughter from the many of children there mingle, with informative commentary during feeding time.  We were fascinated to see so much marine life and the sense of whacky occasion this daily event evokes.  The grounds are festooned with a weird and wonderful collection of Asian statuary, inspired by discovering the find of a small statue of the Taoist God Shou Lao in 1879, possibly left by the Chinese settlers who landed here to mine the gold and silver.




The next day we woke a little bit tired, so we decided to spend the day in the relaxed manner. We went to the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and, at the end of the day, to the safe swimming beach at Darwin Waterfront. The enormous hangar housing the Heritage Centre’s exhibits is almost completely filled with a Boeing B52. This 8-engine behemoth, with its 56-metre wingspan, consumes a fair chunk of floor space and towers above all the other aircraft and displays. But for such a monster it’s remarkable how tiny the cockpit is. A retro Ansett ANA mobile stairway allows visitors to climb to the cockpit window and peer into the pilots’ cramped office. Inside the bomb bay there’s a theater showing a film outlining the story of the plane’s arrival in Darwin.



The B52 is just the centerpiece among an impressive collection of aircraft including a Mirage, a B25 Mitchell bomber, a Huey helicopter, a replica Spitfire and the wreckage of a Japanese Zero, brought down during the bombing of Darwin in World War 2.




In most places the local Botanical Gardens have a special section for tropical plants, but in the Darwin Gardens they’re pretty much everywhere. Only a short distance from the city centre, this is a great place to stroll through a dense rainforest while still within 10 minutes of a latte. Cyclone Tracy all but destroyed the Gardens in 1974 but thanks to the dedicated work of curator, George Brown, later mayor of Darwin, they’re now better than ever. It is a good place to spend couple of hours in a hot summer day. The Cyclone exhibit at the Museum shows Darwin before and after, and serves as a chilling reminder of nature’s wild mood swings. Head into a dark sound room and hear the cyclone’s fury, recorded by Father Ted Collins in various locations around the city.
There’s much more to see here including the indigenous art gallery with its clever Tjanpi grass Toyota, woven from desert grass, the natural history exhibition and the preserved body of Sweetheart, a ferocious 5.1 metre saltwater crocodile, responsible for a number of attacks on boats in the ‘70s.



A relatively recent addition to Darwin is the waterfront precinct with its modern accommodation, restaurants and cafes, recreation lagoon and wave pool. We spent rest of the day in the wave pool and then, after the dusk, had a dinner at one of the restaurants there.

After some lesser known highlight of a day at the races a couple of city center markets and a nice night market in Palmerston we headed back to Brisbane. We look forward to the trip back to the Top End.